TORONTO — Ontario has lifted COVID-19 capacity limits in some venues that are asking patrons to show proof of vaccination — a move that's being met with mixed reactions from different industries.
As of Saturday morning, cinemas, theatres, concert and spectator sports venues and car and horse racing tracks are allowed to open at full capacity.
Physical distancing requirements have been lifted along with capacity limits with some exceptions such as indoor meeting and event spaces, which must still maintain two metres between people.
Provincial officials said there have been few outbreaks in the selected settings and most other public health measures such as masks remain in place.
Michael Friisdahl, president and CEO of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, said he's "overjoyed" that the organization can once again welcome a full venue to cheer on the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors.
"We are grateful to all levels of government for their partnership in this process and we recognize there will continue to be much work to do together to ensure the safest environment possible for every event attendee and our community," Friisdahl said in a statement on Twitter.
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said the most important thing is that it has now been deemed safe to have full capacity.
Defenceman Morgan Rielly said the team is looking forward to the crowds.
"We just missed that atmosphere… it’s hard to put your finger on it, but it’s the feeling when you get late in the game and you hear the crowd noise, it really gives our team a boost," he said.
Cineplex spokesperson Melissa Pressacco said in a statement that the change is “welcome news” to movie theatres.
“We’re still reviewing yesterday's exciting announcement and what it will mean for movie-lovers in Ontario," she said.
Capacity rules remain in effect for other places requiring proof of vaccination such as gyms and restaurants.
Restaurants Canada said it's "extremely disappointed" that the Ontario government has chosen to lift capacity limits in some venues, but not for the "hardest-hit" food service industry.
In a statement issued Friday, the national, non-profit association representing Canada's restaurant and food service industry said it doesn't understand why they continue to be "singled out" by the Ontario government and face tougher COVID-19 restrictions.
"It is beyond comprehension that 20,000 people can cram into an arena, scream, and closely congregate without masks, while restaurants must adhere to strict distancing regulations which severely restrict the number of customers that can be served," Restaurants Canada said.
Mohamad Fakih, CEO of Paramount Fine Foods, echoed these remarks on social media, saying while safe reopening is the No. 1 priority, restaurants and small businesses are being "scapegoated and penalized."
Restaurants Canada has called on the province to immediately lift all further restrictions on the industry and provide additional support to recognize the cost of implementing the vaccine passport program.
Jason Sheridan, CEO of GoodLife Fitness, said the gym club company will continue to abide by public health regulations and looks forward to "further collaborative conversations with government stakeholders."
The provincial government said it's making the changes based on high vaccination rates, stable public health indicators and the vaccine certificate policy.
Ontario reported 654 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths from the virus Saturday.
Of the new cases, 464 of the infected people are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status. The province said 190 of the cases are in fully vaccinated people.
There are 153 people in intensive care due to COVID-19, including 139 patients who are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status.
Provincial data says nearly 87 per cent of Ontario residents aged 12 and older have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 82 per cent have both shots.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 9, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press